Well, this is shaping up to be a great Players Championship (take that, Vijay!), with Sergio Garcia leading and Tiger Woods right behind him. Garcia, who won here in 2008, had a sizzling second nine (teed off no. 10), rolling in five birdies in a row at one point and matching his career low at TPC Sawgrass with a seven-under 65.
Sergio actually played better on his first nine, but he just didn’t score. Imagine if he had!
“I only made a couple putts on the front nine,” said Garcia, who’s greatest feats in 2013 might be this trick shot or this one. “I hit every single green, gave myself good birdie chances everywhere. Hit some good putts.
“But then on the back nine I played well, probably not as well as the front, but yeah, I started rolling the putts in. I just got in a good rhythm on the greens. It seemed like I had a good feel for it, and every putt just wanted to drop. I actually thought that the one on the last was going to go in, too. I hit it exactly where I wanted, but unfortunately it just didn’t break to the right.”
I watched Sergio make an impressive up-and-down on no. 14 (Tiger’s favorite hole!) yesterday. He pushed his drive so far right that he almost ended up in the pond near the 12th tee. He was on a downhill side slope in the rough and he took a short iron and laid up to right in front of the green. Then he pitched it to about 10 feet and made the putt. That’s a solid four on a very tough hole.
Sergio is so talented. Everybody knows that. I just wish he believed it himself. There are few players that are more fun to watch when they’re playing well.
Speaking of which, Tiger Woods is one of them, but I don’t know, Sergio might be more entertaining — something about his shotmaking (and yes, I know, Tiger is also incredible at that, but it’s different).
Tiger shot another five-under 67 on Friday morning, but he played better than he did on Thursday. He hit a few stray drives, which led to bogeys on nos. 14 and 7, and he had some fortunate bounces.
“I hit the ball a little bit better than I did yesterday and felt I managed my game well,” said Woods, who shot a two-day total ten-under. “All those shots that I’ve missed were in the correct spots, which is always nice. I’ve had a couple funky up-and-downs the last couple days, but I’ve missed the ball in the correct spot, so I’ve had some room to get them up-and-down, and I’ve handled the par-5s really well the first couple days.”
The par-5s have been crucial for Tiger not only this week but all season. As you may remember, he was frustrated at times last year because he wasn’t capitalizing on the reachable-in-two par-5s and converting for birdie or eagle. Well, this year, it’s been a different story.
His eagle on the par-5 no. 2 (his 10th hole) was his seventh of the season. In 2012 he only made four total.
TPC Sawgrass has never been one of Tiger’s favorite tracks. He won this event in 2001, but he was winning everything back then. His last three starts have looked like this: T40, DNS, WD. (Though in the Tour media guide, they have omitted the “DNS” — remember, Tiger walked off the course after 27 holes due to an injury.)
So, what’s changed?
“I’ve played really well through a stretch there in 2000, 2001, I did pretty well through there, and came here playing well,” said Woods. “I think that is the key. You just have to come here playing well, and I just thought what I’ve done so far this year has been pretty good and better than most. I think that I was headed in the right direction coming into this week. I played well at Augusta. My last two weeks of practice have been really solid and I came in here with some confidence.”
He paused and smiled right before he started saying, “better than most.” The room erupted with laughter, as well. Of course, that was in reference to the famous call by Gary Koch in 2001 when Woods drained a 60-footer on no. 17 in the third round. He ended up beating Vijay Singh by a shot to capture his lone Players Championship title.
Oh, and this serves as some kind of red alert — as in, watch out, guys, because Tiger is going to kick your butt.
“I’m pleased with every facet of it,” said Tiger when asked which part of his game he was happiest with.
He’s happy with all facets of his game! He hasn’t said that in a long, long time. (At least not to my recollection.)
Meanwhile, Dustin Johnson, who withdrew from the Wells Fargo Championship last week due to a wrist injury, pulled out again prior to his second round on Friday due to a lower back injury. Well, I can think of a few extracurricular activities that could cause such harm. So juvenile, I know! But you were thinking it, too!
Unless someone in the afternoon wave can better Garcia or Woods, it looks like we’re in for a compelling Tiger-Sergio pairing! Now won’t that be fun?
(AP Photo/Chris O’Meara, John Raoux)